Beauty, Mirth, and Good Cheer: Niki de Saint Phalle’s Three Graces

One of the most recognizable subjects in the history of art, the Three Graces of Greek mythology have been the subject of countless artworks, poems, dances, and musical pieces. As daughters of the omnipotent Zeus, the Graces were broadly considered goddesses of charm, beauty, and creativity. The Three Graces – Aglaea, Euphorsyne, and Thalia – embodied the ideals of Beauty, Mirth, and Good Cheer, respectively. Deeply embedded in the complexities of ancient myth, the Three Graces were written of by such colossal figures as Homer and Pausanius, and were associated with both the Elusian Mysteries and the cult of the Oracle of Delphi.

Visually reinterpreted time and again over the centuries, the Three Graces are generally depicted as youthful, beautiful women, closely embracing each other or dancing in a circle. Below are three representations of the Three Graces spanning the history of art: a wall painting from Pompeii, a Renaissance masterpiece by Sandro Botticelli, and finally, Niki de Saint Phalle’s colorful reworking of the ancient theme. Now on view as part of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, Saint Phalle’s mosaic work, “The Three Graces”, 1999, features three joyously dancing women whose voluptuous figures recall the many fertility goddesses of ancient lore.

Fresco from Pompeii, House of Titus Dentatus Panthera, ca 65 -79 AD; Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Detail from "Primavera" by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482; Uffizi Gallery

"The Three Graces", 1999, by Niki de Saint Phalle; New York Avenue Sculpture Project

Raphael Sikorra is Curatorial Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

2 thoughts on “Beauty, Mirth, and Good Cheer: Niki de Saint Phalle’s Three Graces

  1. Thanks for sharing this and putting this work by Niki de Saint Phalle in historical and cultural context. I love Niki de Saint Phalle!

    Sally

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